Monthly Archives: February 2016
MASIPAG stands solid and true to its mission of serving the small-scale farmers in Mindanao. Helping to ensure the steadfast commitment of empowering farmers and their communities for a better society are Marlon Recidoro, MASIPAG-Mindanao’s Regional Project Management Team (RPMT) Chairperson and Leo “XL” Fuentes, Regional Coordinator.
Marlon is an organic farmer from South Cotabato and is currently the Vice-President of the farmer’s organization Sto Niño Integrated Farmers Association (SINFA). Marlon practices diversified farming in his San Isidro hometown.
Leo, or more commonly known as XL, is an advocate of Sustainable Agriculture. He earned his degree in Agriculture at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Aside from being an organic food enthusiast (he manages an organic café in his hometown Compostela Valley), XL also currently writes for DavaoToday.Com in the column GreenMinded: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today.
Along with the rest of the RPMT, Marlon and XL are focused on further strengthening the peoples’ organizations (PO) members of MASIPAG. Already, they have conducted several trainings and orientations among the POs to fortify their sustainable agriculture production and reinvigorate their commitment for genuine rural development.#
Quezon City, 23 February 2016— A multi-sector action composed of civil society groups and peoples’ organizations representing farmers, the academe, consumer rights advocates and sustainable agriculture advocates, marched today to the offices of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DENR) to demand informed, adequate and meaningful public consultations before the issuance of a set of new rules on the research, commercial cultivation and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“We denounce the railroading of the public consultation process. There are no conclusive studies on the possible exposure to risks from GMOs as yet. The Philippine government has not even done any post-release evaluation of the impact on human and animal health, on biodiversity from GMOs, including those imported for feeds and processing into food. We lament that the government is rushing to issue new rules and is ignoring the precautionary principles[i], to the detriment of farmers, unsuspecting consumers, and other affected stakeholders,” said Sanshen R. Maglinte, spokesperson of Green Action PH.
The groups, which include the petitioners in the writ of kalikasan against Bt talong, are calling on the government to apply the precautionary principles, which advises prudence in the absence of conclusive scientific evidence on the safety of GMOs. The groups are also questioning why the new rules are being rushed.
“Though it may seem that the new Joint Department Circular (JDC) involves more government departments, agencies and committees, it still didn’t go through a meaningful and substantive participation of stakeholders and the public. The DA merely had token meetings with no proper feedback mechanisms nor ample time for scrutiny. As it stands, the new rules are still missing requirements for health impact studies regulatory standards and specific duties for regulation, and mechanisms to assure the independence of regulators. In short, there are still a lot of areas which need to be clarified and substantiated,” said Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) National Chairperson Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano.
Last December, the Supreme Court already affirmed the May 2013 Court of Appeals order for a permanent ban on field trials of the genetically modified eggplant, Bt talong, and the temporary ban on development of GMOs. The ban is in place only until a new ‘administrative order’.
“In spite of the potential to cause serious harm to the environment and food safety for humans and animals are unknown, the JDC continues to rely on ‘substantial equivalence’ on the presumption that GMOs are the same as its conventional counterparts. But GMOs should be studied as unique organisms because they have unique genetic make-up and characteristics not present in their natural counterparts. They require more time and scientific attention. The JDC should be able to safeguard the health and other interests of the public, so why rush it?” Leonora Lava of Greenpeace Philippines asked.
Farmers from KMP said that big agro-chemical companies and businesses with import and biosafety permits expiring this month are the ones that will benefit from the railroaded process. “Profit-oriented multinational and transnational agrochemical companies promoting GMOs, in particular U.S.-based exporters of soybean, soybean meal, feeds and fodders, coarse grains, cotton, vegetable oil and other GMOs, are the ones who will really gain from this new JDC, not the Filipino producers and consumers,” Ka Paeng added.
Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG, one of the petitioners in the case, called on the government departments to focus more on agricultural systems that will benefit the environment and provide safe and sufficient food for the Filipino people. “There is a probability that after the JDC is passed, it will be business-as-usual again for biotech companies, importers and traders in which GMOs will easily penetrate our food systems. We are thus calling on the people to protect our fragile agricultural biodiversity and the farmers’ rights to seed, land and technology. We are calling for more public consultations, as it is the people who will bear the brunt of these unwanted and untested technologies. We are calling for sustainable, environment friendly and a farmer-led agriculture to achieve safe and sufficient food for all,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG.
An Open Letter to Secretaries Proceso J. Alcala, Ramon J.P. Paje,
Janette P. Loreta-Garin, Mel Senen Sarmiento;
and Mario G. Montejo on the
DOST-DA-DENR-DOH-DILG Joint Department Circular No. 1, Series of 2016
We, civil society and peoples’ organizations, call on the Honourable Secretaries to extend, expand and improve the on-going consultation and approval of the DA-DOH-DENR-DOST-DILG-DTI-DFA Joint Department Circular to replace the Department of Agriculture Administrative Order No. 8 (DAO No. 8) series of 2002 to ensure informed, substantive, adequate and meaningful participation of all stakeholders. Otherwise, the approval of the current draft, set on Feb. 23, by the Honourable Secretaries, will defeat the decision of our Highest Court and violate the Filipinos’ Constitutional rights to health, a balanced and healthful ecology, information, and public participation.
In December 2015, the Supreme Court passed judgement to permanently ban the field-testing of Bt talong, and temporarily ban all applications for contained use, field testing, propagation, commercialization, and importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pending new rules that will replace the flawed DAO No. 8. This was after the Highest Court’s finding that in the face of the uncertainty, and the possibility of irreversible and serious harm of GMOs based on the evidence on record, and current state of GMO research worldwide, the government’s regulatory agencies failed to operationalize the National Biosafety Framework (NBF) in the DAO No. 8, and failed to implement the NBF in the crucial stages of risk assessment and public consultation, including the determination of applicability of environmental impact assessment to GMO field testing thus compelling the application of the precautionary principle.
However, the very flaws of DAO No. 8 have not been corrected in the the draft JDC and the limited, fast-tracked consultation for the JDC once again leaves the Filipino public behind in the decision making.
Call for scientific studies and robust, independent assessments
The JDC continues to presume that GMOs are the same as their conventional counterparts and so requires no actual tests on their safety as food or feed despite lack of scientific consensus for this presumption and approach. As a precaution, we ask that the JDC provides for more scientific studies on the safety and actual and long-term impacts of GMOs; environmental impacts assessment; and social and other risks assessment.
We further ask for requirements for health studies; for regulatory standards, and definition of the responsibilities, duties and capacity of each regulatory body.
In the current draft, the DOH for example, is tasked with determining safety without elaboration; the environmental impact assessment is still not required; and safeguards are inadequate to protect the independence of regulators. Also, some sections still need to be clarified, substantiated and agreed on to operationalize the requirements of the NBF and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
Provide for liability and redress mechanisms
We further ask the Honourable Secretaries that there should be provisions in the JDC for the following: notice and hearing of stakeholders’ opposition to GMOs application; appeal to a decision on application; protection and compensation of farmers whose farms get contaminated with unwanted GMOs; continuous impacts monitoring on health and environment considering that the negative effects of GMOs may take time before they manifest; labelling, for effective impacts monitoring; protection for scientists and researchers whose studies and experiments yield findings and recommendations against, or inconclusive for, GMOs; and protection and compensation for those whose health is harmed or when the environment is adversely affected by GMOs.
These are fundamental issues that were not covered or adequately discussed due to the limited and fast-tracked consultation afforded to the public.
We humbly urge the Honourable Secretaries to take this as an opportune moment to improve and strengthen the Philippine biosafety regulation through a careful, inclusive and transparent process.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)
Consumer Rights for Safe Food (CRSF)
RESIST Agrichem TNCs!
Green Action PH
Maharlika Artists and Writers Federation
Save the Coconut Movement
Quezon City – Farmer-scientist group MASIPAG believes that the new policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a product of a railroaded process that sidelined the participation and position of resource-poor farmers in the country and still indicates a strong GMO bias.
Merely two months after the Supreme Court has ruled against Bt-talong and temporarily banned new applications for genetically modified organisms, the Department of Agriculture (DA), along with the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); Health (DOH); Science and Technology (DOST); and Interior and Local Government (DILG) has come up with a joint department circular that is essentially the same with its predecessor, the voided DA Administrative Order No.8.
“The draft as of February 21 still fails to address substantial issues such as instituting clear standards for determining health and environment safety,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPAG. “Another contentious issue is the independence and capacity of the risk assessors. For instance, the members of the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC), which is tasked to conduct risk assessment and come up with risk management strategies, are selected by the applicants, with the two community representatives outnumbered by the scientists.”
Also noticeable was the absence of community representatives at the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) which evaluates the risk assessments conducted by the IBC.
The Joint Department Circular (JDC) has been drafted by a technical working group and is posed to be signed for approval on February 23. The National Committee on Biosafety in the Philippines which acts as the secretariat has called for consultations to supposedly solicit comments from various stakeholders.
Token Public Participation
MASIPAG, along with other civil society and peoples’ organizations slammed the apparent railroading of the consultation process which only started last January 25, with the secretariat failing to provide the draft of the JDC prior to the consultations.
“We feel that the JDC failed to uphold the spirit of the Supreme Court ruling, which is to broaden the discussion and meaningfully engage the wider general public on issues that affect our health and safety,” said Darius Gurango, a farmer from Real, Quezon. “During the so-called consultation, they fail to address our pressing concerns and instead insist on fast-tracking the GMO regulations which still appear suspiciously pro-GMOs.”
“The JDC still applies the substantial equivalence and provides for deregulation which could potentially be abused by agrochemical companies hoping to remove their GMOs from the governance of the JDC,” said Dr. Medina. “Meanwhile, presuming that GMOs are the same as their conventional counterparts (substantial equivalence) is a cause for alarm since the regulators deem that no actual tests on their safety as food or feed are required.”
“But as the Supreme Court has ruled, the safety of the people and the environment should be given paramount importance, and that is what the JDC should espouse,” he added.
Imperative for Alternatives
Research institutions, as well as livestock and feed mill businessmen lament the Supreme Court decision because of its supposed impact on research, and availability of livestock feeds and has been putting much pressure on DA and the other departments to hasten the crafting of the new JDC.
“However, while they are lobbying for the new regulations, they should also focus on looking for alternatives, that we may not be reliant on GMO imports,” said Gurango. “There are a number of farmers and communities who are able to raise livestock using more sustainable feeds that are safe and inexpensive.”
“Researchers and students should be appreciative that the Supreme Court decision actually calls for more scientific studies to determine health and safety of GMOs,” said Dr. Medina. “For instance, environmental impact assessments call for independent and open-minded scientists who will better serve the people this way, rather than merely relying on research funded by agrochemical corporations.”
“If the JDC is passed in its current form, it will be business-as-usual again for modern biotech companies, importers and traders in which GM products will saturate our food systems,” said Dr. Medina. “Thus, we are calling on the government to protect our fragile agrobiodiversity and the farmers’ rights to seed, land and technology. We are calling for more public consultations, as it is the people who will bear the brunt of these unwanted and untested technologies. We are calling for sustainable, environment friendly and a farmer-led agriculture to achieve safe and sufficient food for all.”#
While the new inter-agency administrative order supposedly addresses the concerns of the Supreme Court ruling on Bt-talong, the process of which the AO is being crafted is a blatant disregard of the essence of the SC decision: that GMOs and its possible hazards are of “paramount public importance,” thus, should ensure that they are well-informed and educated on the issue. The fast-tracking of the AO appears to be a concession to the big businesses and industries pushing for GMOs, while neglecting the welfare of the farmers and consumers and the environment. (The following article is published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 10, 2016)
Environment, agri groups buck issuance of GMO rules
Joint circular on importation of crops to be out soon
VARIOUS groups that are against the propagation of genetically modified (GM) crops said the government was railroading the issuance of new rules for the commercial cultivation and importation of such products as a final consultation session was held on Tuesday.
The groups include Greenpeace, Magsasaka at Syentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag), Green Action PH (Graph), Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham), Pesticide Action Network Philippines, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and the Center or Health Initiatives and Management of Eco-systems.
Greenpeace campaigner Leonora Lava said in a press briefing that following the Supreme Court’s junking of the old GM crop rules last December, the concerned executive departments had conducted “so-called multistakeholder public consultations on Jan. 22 in Cebu City, Jan. 25 in Cagayan de Oro City and Jan. 27 in Quezon City.
The High Court had stopped tests on growing the so-called Bt talong, a variety of eggplant made pest-resistant with a gene of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis.
Along with that, the tribunal also declared void the DA’s Administrative Order No. 8, saying this failed to meet the minimum requirements for safety.
The consultation on Tuesday was to be the final session on a new joint department circular being drafted by the Departments of Science and Technology, Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Health and Interior and Local Government.
“They intend to issue the circular on Feb. 16,” Lava said. “That’s not even one month. Why the rush?”
Masipag national coordinator Chito Medina said the notice for consultation was circulated a week before in Luzon and Metro Manila and only two working days in advance in Visayas and Mindanao.
“Along with the short notice, the NCBP (National Committee on Biosafety of the Philippines) also failed to provide an advanced copy of the draft [rules] that will be presented during the consultation,” Medina said.
“Add to this the ridiculously short program and the dominance in numbers of known GM crop promoters including representatives from agrochemical corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, we believe that the consultation is just a token one,” he added.
But according to Dennis Guerrero, chief of staff at the agriculture department, the anti-GM crop groups should focus on the substance of the draft.
“The draft and the process it is undergoing addresses all the points the Supreme Court raised in voiding the previous rules,” Guerrero said.
The lawyer added that comments from all parties will be entertained until Feb. 18 and the final version of the joint circular is expected to be issued before the end of this month.
“The draft is available for download through the websites of the DA, DOST and NCBP,” Guerrero said. “We have painstakingly addressed all the issues raised in the Supreme Court decision, especially that about the need for meaningful consultation with stakeholders.” Ronnel W. Domingo